Microsoft Surface RT Offer to Education

Microsoft offered the Surface RT 32 Gb version to schools in 25 countries including Ireland in mid June. The offer initially was to run until 31 August 2013. In early August this deadline was extended until to 30 September so Irish schools still have some time to place an order. This offer is for institution purchases only and not for individual teachers and students.
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Under the offer schools can purchase
Surface RT (32GB) – €190.65 (including VAT)
Surface RT (32GB) with Touch Keyboard Cover – €241.08 (including VAT)
Surface RT (32GB) with Type Keyboard Cover – €280.44 (including VAT)

When I first saw this offer, I considered that for under €200 including VAT that the basic model was good value for money for the following reasons:

·         Wifi enabled 10 inch tablet device for browsing the internet, sending and receiving e-mails

·         Flash support already built into IE 10 and Windows RT

·         Skydrive cloud integration and the inclusion of Office 2013 RT apps (Word, Ecxel, Powerpoint and One Note)

·         Free upgrade available to the much awaited Windows RT 8.1

I have been trying out my Surface RT with the Touch Keyboard Cover for about two weeks now. It has a 10 inch touch screen with a built in kick stand, front and rear facing camera, speakers, microphone, USB port, micro SD Card slot and micro hdmi port. When buying, I was well aware of the fact that availability of apps in the Windows Store wouldn’t compare with the apps available on the iTunes and Google Play stores. Having said that many of the most popular apps such as Skype, Dropbox etc. are available now in the Windows Store. Only apps that have been written for RT can be installed on this offering, if you require older x86 applications, you should purchase the Surface Pro.  This Microsoft site, lists the Top Windows 8 Education apps –http://www.microsoft.com/education/ww/products/windows-8/Pages/windows-apps.aspx If however, educational apps for a tablet are what interest you, I think this may not be the tablet for you at present.

I find that the touch screen on the Surface isn’t as responsive as the Apple iPad, particularly when it comes to following weblinks on websites. However, because it has an USB port, I can pop in a mouse which I find really useful. Using a stylus, which comes with some of the  Surface cases available from 3rd party suppliers on Amazon and e-Bay is another good solution. While the capacity of the disc drive is nominally 32 gb, the operating system and system recovery partition take up more than half of that space leaving just under 14 gb available for storing your apps, videos, music and documents. The fact that the Surface has a micro SD card slot, storage can be expanded by adding a micro SD (micro SDXC up to 64 gb capacity additional storage) for storing photos, videos and documents. Apps cannot be stored on the micro SD card. The USB port which is a full USB 2.0  port also facilitates plugging in a USB flash drive for storing and accessing files, connecting a camera, printer, music player, phone or even an external hard drive. Multiple USB devices can be connected using an USB hub, preferably one with its own power supply if you want to connect a number of devices.

The Office 2013 RT apps make creating documents very simple and straight forward for pupils and teachers alike. Saving to the cloud using Skydrive (which is the preferred saving solution on the Surface RT) simplifies creating, saving and opening documents at home and at school on the Surface RT, laptop or desktop computer.

Connecting printers seems to be well supported. The Windows RT operating system had drivers for the Canon LBP 5360 colour laser printers, purchased under the NCTE’s Printer Framework Agreement a few years ago and connecting the surface to these printers was a very simple task on the school network. Printing and capturing documents from my HP Officejet 8600 is easily accomplished using the appropriate HP apps available free of charge on the Windows Store.

I already had a HDMI to VGA connector for connecting my laptop to a digital projector. Purchasing a micro hdmi (male) to hdmi (female) adapter (€3.50 from eBay) has allowed me to connect the Surface RT to VGA projectors. Microsoft do sell adapters as accessories,   Surface RT VGA and Surface RT HD Digital AV for €40.

As we use both Mathletics and Reading Eggspress with our pupils in school these were the first Flash content based websites that I tested as soon as I got my hands on my Surface RT. Out of the box, as shipped by Microsoft, Mathletics and Reading Eggs worked perfectly, however I was dismayed to receive a Flash is not installed message when I tried it out on Reading Eggspress.  I have found the Reading Express content more demanding in terms of hardware in the past, so I wasn’t altogether entirely surprised. Fortunately, the solution was to install Microsoft updates, one of which was a Flash player update for Internet Explorer. Updates do take a long time to download and install and require a number attempts before your new Surface RT is fully up to date. There are a few issues that Microsoft need to address if the Surface RT is to be widely adopted in schools. The first has been already mentioned, windows updates taking a long time. Another issue Microsoft must examine is the issue of cloning a large number of tablets with the same configuration. We have been using the Apple iPads for nearly three years now. I configure one iPad in a class set, backup and use the backup to restore the same configuration and settings to the remaining class set. At present, the Surface RT fails here as each tablet has to be configured individually and no more than 5 devices can be associated with one Windows Store account. For a school with a class set of 20 Surface RT tablets, this involves multiple Windows Store accounts or else adding and removing devices from the one account.

However all in all, at the present pricing structure, the Surface RT does offer schools value for money. Microsoft announced details today of their new updated Surface 2 (Windows 8.1 RT) and Surface Pro 2 (Windows 8.1) which will go on sale on October 22. It will be very interesting to see whether they will continue to offer special pricing to their education customers.

You can download an order form from the Seomra Ranga website here – http://www.seomraranga.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/MICROSOFT_SURFACE_DOC.pdf

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